JERUSALEM — Top Israeli officials Tuesday politely but firmly rejected U.S. arguments that they should not deport Palestinians accused of instigating disturbances in the occupied territories, saying they know best how to protect their own national security.
While the comments by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin stopped short of promising new expulsions, they were seen here as the strongest indication yet that a move to expel at least some Palestinians is likely within days.
The remarks coincided with the arrest Tuesday of at least nine Arab activists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are considered by informed sources here as prime candidates for deportation.
'Must Take Measures'
"I can't say anything about how many will be deported," Shamir said during a visit to the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, just west of Jerusalem, "but we must take these measures."
As for U.S. protests that deportations violate the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Shamir commented: "Our answer is the same we give in similar incidents: The state of Israel knows how to defend its peace and security. We thank (the U.S.) for the advice, but we will behave according to our own understanding."
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the expulsion "for any reason whatsoever" of civilians from an area under military occupation. Israel insists that the prohibition was designed to prevent deportation for forced labor, torture or extermination, while it expels people only to ensure public order and security.
Rabin, meanwhile, told reporters after briefing the Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that expulsions are allowed under Israeli law and are "needed" to ensure that "there will be no resumption of outbursts of public violent disorder in the future."
Israel radio quoted Rabin as saying to committee members: "We will tell the United States we have expelled, we are expelling and we will continue to expel; we have detained, are detaining and will continue to detain. We'll do whatever is necessary to restore order, and this has been made clear to Washington."
Israel bases its legal right to expel those it deems a threat to security and order on a regulation that dates back before its formation as a nation in 1948, in the post-World War I period when Palestine was governed by Britain under a League of Nations mandate.
The comments by Shamir and Rabin followed strong representations by U.S. officials in Tel Aviv and Washington on Monday that were meant to deter any Israeli expulsions.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering pressed Washington's case in a meeting with Rabin, and in Washington the Administration view was presented in a message from the State Department's director of Israeli relations, Philip Wilcox, to Israeli Charge d'Affaires Oded Eran.
In addition to considering expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland without trial as a violation of due process, the United States has argued that deportations will only exacerbate the situation in the occupied territories by increasing tension.
Israel contends that those under expulsion order have adequate legal protections, including the right of appeal to the Israel high court.
Israel has deported more than 1,000 Palestinians since 1968, shortly after capturing the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War. But the tactic has been used relatively little in the last decade, and never during that time on a scale such as is apparently being considered now.
According to Israeli media reports last weekend, security sources wanted to expel "hundreds" of Palestinians in the wake of what is now generally accepted to have been the most widespread unrest in the territories in a generation. At least 21 Arabs were killed by army gunfire and another 158 wounded during more than two weeks of violence beginning Dec. 9. About 1,000 Palestinians have been arrested.
Later, military sources said Rabin was weighing a proposal to expel up to 20 Palestinians.
U.S. officials were said Tuesday evening to be unaware of any final decision on expulsions, and Israeli sources said no decision on the expulsions is likely to be announced until after a meeting of the 10-member Inner Cabinet of senior ministers today.
Of the nine activists arrested Tuesday, seven are from the West Bank and two from Gaza. At least five were among 1,150 prisoners released from Israeli jails in a controversial May, 1985, exchange for three Israeli captives of the Lebanon war, and at least three are journalists. All are said to be active in Palestinian nationalist organizations.
While Israeli leaders appeared to be taking a hard line on deportations, defense officials Tuesday offered more reassuring news to the United States and other critics who have protested Israel's use of lethal force against rock-throwing demonstrators.